Reading an artist’s diary is the next best thing to being there. Direct and private, diaries provide firsthand accounts of appointments made and met, places seen, and work in progress—all laced with personal ruminations, name-dropping, and the occasional sketch or doodle. Whether recording historic events or simple day-to-day moments, these diary entries evoke the humanity of these artists and their moment in time.
On January 1, painter Jervis McEntee was broody, sculptor John Storrs was reflective, printmaker Blanche Lazzell was optimistic, and painter Karl Zerbe was hungover. Learn how these and other artists rang in the New Year.
It is a super cool exhibit with some amazing stories from artists’ lives. I got to read from the diary of painter Jervis McEntee. They have 5 volumes of his diaries that span the years from 1872 to 1890 and are rich in details of the art world in America at the time. He’d often been accused of painting melancholy and sad pieces. He defended himself by saying he was painting what was there. He was part of the Hudson River School, which was the core an American art movement that was mostly of landscapes (and landscape painters) whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. Which, as it seems was similar to romantic poetry, I am not surprised by that description of McEntee’s work. He was a member of the National Academy of Design’s old guard and fiercely opposed the influences of modern and avant-garde painting in Europe.
McEntee, sadly, seems to have gotten more attention for his diaries of the time period than for his art. In his writing, he often ruminates on the art market, patrons and collectors, the weather, and his works in progress. His entries often seem just as pensive and melancholic as his art.
Transcription, January 1, 1874
Thursday, January 1, 1874- It’s a strange and a somewhat sad sensation to write the New Year the first time. It seems to me that the year which has just passed has been too full of cares and worries to have been as profitable as it might have been for me and I enter upon this new one with no well-defined plans and not much hope that my material interests will greatly improve. I hope however I am learning something towards adapting myself to my condition and accepting the lot which it seems so difficult to change. It might be much worse but I can see how it might be much better. I have begun the New Year as I ended the old with work for in that alone I find real peace and enjoyment.
I have to admit, sad as his entry was, it was also inspiring. So very glad I got the opportunity to participate in this event with some other fantastic folks. What was also especially moving was to have the great-niece of one of the artists get to read her great-aunt’s work. Special shout out to Curator of Manuscripts, Mary Savig. What a great way to bring this history to life!
As an example of some of the other AMAZING pieces available:
*As a note to anyone reading this, make sure you check out what may be going on in your local library or museum. You may be missing out.